making god smile

I used to have a CD called Making God Smile: An Artists’ Tribute to the Songs of Beach Boy Brian Wilson, which I adored – maybe a little too much. I loved it so much I wanted to share it, loaned it to an out-of-town friend, and never got it back. To make matters worse, I had (for some reason) only ripped a few favorite tracks to my computer, not the whole thing. And I don’t think those few tracks survived from that computer to the one I own now.

Well, when I was using an Amazon gift card for my birthday the other night, I looked for items on my wish list, and it was only $6.95, so I figured this was as good a time as any to replace it. My new copy arrived today.

This is a hard CD to explain, but I just love it. As the title indicates, it’s a tribute album, with various covers of Brian Wilson songs. Most of those tributes are by people who (if I’ve heard of them at all) are known as Christian artists – including two of my all-time favorites, Terry Scott Taylor and Randy Stonehill. Terry’s work in Daniel Amos and The Swirling Eddies has always been heavily influenced by both Brian Williams and The Beatles, so it’s no surprise that he’d be a part of this. The album also includes Phil Keaggy and Sixpence None The Richer.

But this isn’t a Christian album per se. There is some spirituality to it, to the extent that some of Brian’s songwriting tends towards that, but not the over, ham-handed spirituality found in most quote-Christian-unquote music. And there are plenty of other cuts that are just fun Beach Boys stuff.

The covers are fun – some hew close to the originals, others veer off. Kevin Max, formerly of DC Talk, and Jimmy Abegg, who played in Vector and for Rich Mullins, and now is a member of Steve Taylor & The Perfect Foil, the band I saw last November and won’t shut up about, offer a delightfully-weird, slowed-down version of “Help Me Rhonda,” giving it an almost morbid quality.

I think my favorite cut, though, is the very first one. Tom Prasada-Rao and Amilia K. Spicer’s duet on “Your Imagination” is just beautiful, bright and melodic, with wonderful harmony. I bet it made Brian Wilson smile. Which leads me to the question you always have with a collection like this – what did the honoree think of it? Had Brian heard of any of these people before? (I’m sure he’s heard of Sixpence, and perhaps he even remembered Phil Keaggy from his days in Glass Harp.) Did he enjoy what they did with his music? I would love to know.

Obviously, he’s not opposed to tributes to his work, such as that all-star BBC video from last year.

All of this, of course, is getting me primed for the Brian Wilson biopic coming out this summer:

whirlwind

It has been a heck of a week so far, and it’s only Wednesday.

Last night, of course, was the annual Nashville Symphony concert at Calsonic Arena in Shelbyville, for which I’m a co-chair. Of course, I probably shouldn’t take credit for that this year; I’ve been spending my days in Lewisburg for the past month, and that meant that Dawn Holley had to do most of the heavy lifting. This was, without going into it, a really difficult year for the concert. We didn’t think it was going to happen at all, and then when we found out we had gotten a reprieve, we were already late hitting the ground. But I have spent more than 20 years now working to promote this concert, and as frustrated as Dawn and I became with the process this year, all was forgiven the moment that Vinay Parameswaran picked up his baton Tuesday night. I love this event. Check out the photos here.

This morning, I went in to the Times-Gazette – remember the Times-Gazette? – in my role as certified master tour guide. Most of the tours I give are for small collections of scouts. But this morning, we had two large groups of kindergarten students from Cascade. We gave the tour to the first group (two classrooms, or about three dozen kids), then they traded places with another group which had been down at the fire station.

We’d been worried about how things would go with two such large groups, but it all worked out fine. I did my normal routine as tour guide, but I can’t take credit for a couple of special additions to the program. With each group, we took a group photo before they started the tour, and then a few photos during the course of the tour. Our paginators put together a mock front page of the newspaper featuring each group, and we printed out copies on our color copier, so each child got to take home a mock front page featuring his or her tour group. (The teachers held on to the front pages until, I suspect, the end of the day.) 

Our first group had finished its tour and was waiting in our front lobby for the other group to return on the school bus from the fire station and switch places. Our publisher, on the spur of the moment, brought out an end roll of newsprint and unrolled it on the floor from one end of the room to the other. We scrounged for every Sharpie or highlighter in the building and just let the kids draw on the giant strip of newsprint. It was so popular that we let the second group do the same thing, even though we didn’t need to kill the same amount of time.

roll of paper

Just as soon as the tour was over, I was out the door and on the way from my permanent employer to my temporary employer, the Marshall County Tribune, where I’ve been spending my days lo this past month. In Marshall County, I had to put together a Lewisburg election results story and then cover a meeting at Henry Horton State Park involving our U.S. congressman. In between, of course, there was other routine stuff – formatting school lunch menus, typing up marriage license listings and real estate transfers, that sort of thing.

I rushed back from Lewisburg to Shelbyville in time for normal Wednesday night dinner at First United Methodist. My lunch had consisted of a bag of potato chips, so I eagerly tore into Andy Borders’ meal of ham, pinto beans, turnip greens and hoe cakes.

So it’s been a hectic 24 hours, and the rest of the week will be busy too. Tomorrow night, even though I am not a cancer survivor, I will attend the annual Relay For Life Cancer Survivor Dinner here in Shelbyville. I, in my role as a Relay organizing committee member, will give a brief “Why I Relay” testimony among several other speakers. Relay is less than a month away, and you can give towards my participation by clicking here.

On Friday night, my father and Ms. Rachel will take me out to dinner to celebrate the relentless passage of time. (I will turn 53 on Friday.)

the elusive sicilian

UPDATE: I found the coupons after all! They’re round, and like Frisbees they flopped out a little farther than I had looked for them. Apologies, Screamin’ Sicilian; you did a great job after all.

A week or two ago, I posted this photo to Facebook:

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I explained that I had an online coupon, loaded to my Kroger Plus card, for something called Screamin’ Sicilian pizza, a brand with which I was not familiar. The pizza box includes a punch-out moustache on the back.

The pizza was wonderful – outstanding for a frozen supermarket pizza, with really good flavor. It is priced as a premium product, not surprisingly, and so I tried to go to the company’s website and sign up for its e-mail list, which supposedly gets you a dollar-off coupon. I tried from two different computers, a Mac at work and a PC at home, and the signup process wouldn’t complete – the site took me to a page with an error message and some HTML code. I posted about this on Facebook, and the company – which does a commendable job of following social media – responded and asked me to send them my mailing address.

I did, and sure enough, today in my mailbox I got a hand-addressed envelope from Screamin’ Sicilian Pizza. The letter apologized for my trouble and invited me to use one of the enclosed coupons and give the rest to my friends.

The only trouble?

There were no coupons in the envelope. I looked in the envelope to see if I’d missed them, I looked on the floor to see if they’d fallen out without me noticing. There was nothing.

I know it was an honest mistake, but I swear it reminded me of some dialogue from an old Marx Brothers movie. Groucho is dictating a letter to someone, probably Zeppo, to one of his creditors. The letter ends with “enclosed, please find 20 dollars.”

“Do you want me to send them 20 dollars?” Zeppo asks.

“You do, and you’re fired,” Groucho shoots back.

A piece of the Rock

I enjoy walking down to Riverbottom Park, just off the Shelbyville square on the banks of the Duck River. Most days, I’ll get out of the office and walk from the Times-Gazette to the square, then from the square down to Riverbottom Park, then back up to the square, stopping by First UMC on my way back to say hello to whoever’s in the office. On weekends, sometimes I will walk from my apartment up to Riverbottom Park and back.

I didn’t want to let my walking go by the wayside while I’m on temporary assignment here in Lewisburg. I’ve been walking every day, going in different directions from the square each day, exploring a little of the area near the square. This paid off on the very first day; I saw the marquee at First UMC Lewisburg advertising an appearance by H.K. Derryberry, whom I’d met only a week or two earlier and got a story out of it.

But it wasn’t until yesterday, after going in pretty much every other direction, that I stumbled across the Rock Creek Park greenway. I walked part of it yesterday and walked more of it today. I took about a 40-minute walk today and still didn’t cover all of it. What a treasure. I wish Shelbyville had a walking trail this long and this nice. I know that there was an original plan for a greenway that would run from the square to Never Rest Park, but they haven’t been able to get all of the necessary property or develop it. Well-maintained, well-designed, and beautiful, with benches and trash cans and a pedestrian bridge over the creek, and so on. Plenty of geese (not surprising, since there’s one of those coin-operated geese food vending machines near the pedestrian bridge). It’s convenient to the square.

While I’m over here, I’ll enjoy having that greenway for my daily walk. I just wish there was someplace to eat on the square. Shelbyville has four restaurants on or close to the square: Pope’s Cafe, Coffee Break, Bocelli’s and new arrival P&B’s Kitchen. Lewisburg has zero, although I found a Mexican restaurant just a little farther out.

Mom’s birthday

Today would have been my mother’s 75th birthday.

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This is one of the last photos I have of her, with my sister Elecia at a party following my niece Jacey’s high school graduation in May 2010. She died of pancreatic cancer in August of that year. I am so sorry Mom won’t be around for Jacey’s wedding next month. I think of her often, as we all do – I’ll see something that she would have liked, and be instantly reminded of her.

In 2013 and 2014, I happened by pure chance to be working on Relay For Life stuff on Mom’s birthday, and this year I only missed it by a day (in either direction – I had Bark For Life yesterday, and Relay For Life committee meetings tomorrow night). Raising money for the American Cancer Society won’t bring my mother back, but maybe it will give a few more people some more days, months or years with their own mothers and fathers and spouses and children.

Value the time you have with the people you love. You never, ever know which meeting will be your last.

A tale of two cities

It has been a long day — I spent the first half of it working for one newspaper, and the second half of it working for another. I will be filling in at the T-G’s sister paper, the Marshall County Tribune, for a few weeks while they’re short-staffed. I came in to the T-G as usual this morning and tried to get some loose ends tied up, then I went and worked at the Trib this afternoon. I rushed back to Shelbyville just in time (a few minutes late, actually, but they were still serving) for dinner at church.

Tomorrow, I’ll do the same thing in reverse — working at the Trib in the morning, then coming back through Shelbyville in the afternoon to take care of a feature interview I’d already scheduled before I knew about my temporary duties. From that point forward, I’ll be at the Trib most of the time, except on Monday mornings, when I’ll stop by the T-G and do my regular weekly hour at Learning Way Elementary. I’ll also cover a few after-hours assignments for the T-G.

I helped out at the Trib a couple of years ago, but that was just occasional assignments for a few weeks. This time, I’ll be putting in regular office hours. It’s a big change – I’ll have been at the T-G for 30 years this coming July, and so it’s a challenge to drop into a different newsroom and a community where I don’t know very many people.

I’m tired. I will sleep well tonight.

Getting my jim key on

4-BJK-AEDCLast August, during the Celebration, Kate Canady saw me on the grounds and came up to me to ask me if I would speak about Beautiful Jim Key at a meeting of the AEDC Women’s Club.

Kate’s husband, Brent, is a retired Navy captain; they’ve settled back in his home town of Shelbyville since his retirement, and Kate has gotten active in the AEDC club, which is associated with Arnold Engineering Development Complex, an Air Force (and Navy) research facility over in Coffee and Franklin counties. Kate said she wanted a to share a good Bedford County-related program with her fellow club members. It had just been announced that Morgan Freeman has agreed to play William Key in a movie adaptation of the story, and Kate thought this would make the program all the more interesting to her friends.

My first reaction was to turn her down – I’m no expert, just a newspaper reporter who’s happened to write a few stories about Beautiful Jim Key, quoting heavily from the real expert on the topic, author Mim Eichler Rivas. The ideal would be if they could get Mim to speak to them – but Mim lives in sunny Southern California, where she’s a successful author and her husband Victor is a busy actor.

I tried to think of someone else I could refer to Kate to do a BJK program and couldn’t come up with anyone. I told her I’d do it, but I was going to clearly present myself as an interested amateur, not an expert.

Kate got back to me later to tell me I’d been scheduled as the program for April. I’ll be speaking this coming Tuesday.

I’ve been making some notes on my program today. I’ve been re-reading Mim’s book, of course. I also ordered a copy of one version of Albert Rogers’ often-revised promotional booklet about the horse, and scanned the state library and archives’ web site for photos I could download. I meant to try to get someone to show me William Key’s grave at Willow Mount Cemetery, so I could take a photo of it, but I never got the chance. I do have photos of the marker at Beautiful Jim Key’s gravesite south of town.

If you’ve never heard the story, Beautiful Jim Key was perhaps the most famous horse in America at the turn of the 20th Century. William Key, a former slave who made a fortune selling patent medicine, taught the horse (an Arabian-Hambletonian) to spell, do math problems, respond to audience questions, and so on. Skeptics assumed (and still do today) that this was trickery, that somehow William Key was doing the spelling, secretly indicating to the horse which letter tile to pick up at a particular time. But a team of Harvard professors could find no evidence of such subterfuge. If it was a trick, it was a good one. Mim does not believe it was a trick.

A promoter named Albert Rogers – equal parts showman and idealist — hooked up with William Key and his horse and promoted them in appearances around the country. (The movie is still trying to nail down its financing, but Clive Owen has agreed to play Albert Rogers opposite Morgan Freeman.) The appearances stressed William Key’s gentle training methods (today we would call him a “horse whisperer”) and often raised money to launch or support some sort of local humane association in that city. Millions of children and adults joined the “Jim Key Band of Mercy,” a fan club, by signing a pledge to be kind to animals.

The horse’s successes were bracketed by two great World’s Fair-type events. Jim Key performed for President William McKinley at the Tennessee Centennial Exposition of 1897, and then was seen by millions at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904, the fair memorialized in the song “Meet Me In St. Louis.” Mim opens the book with the story of Alice Roosevelt, daughter of then-president Teddy Roosevelt, seeing the horse at the fair in St. Louis. William Key asked Jim to spell Alice’s name, and the horse mistakenly – but prophetically – appended the last name of her escort and future husband, Nicholas Longworth.

I enjoy talking about this often-overlooked piece of Bedford County history. I hope I can do it justice on Tuesday.

T-shirt question

OK, all of the laundry experts out there ….

As referenced in a video blog post a week or two ago, the Relay For Life organizing committee (as well as all of our team captains) received their T-shirts much earlier than usual this year. In the past, those T-shirts were given out right before Relay. They would be worn for the first time at Relay and would then become a fond souvenir for repeat wearings after the fact.

This year, however, we’ve gotten our T-shirts several months early, and are being encouraged to wear them at preliminary events – like today’s Celebrity Waiter Luncheon – and in other situations where we might want to promote Relay.

WP_20150317_001In a happy coincidence, our committee shirts are green, so several of us, including me, wore them to today’s luncheon, which happened to fall on Saint Patrick’s Day.

This photo was taken in advance. I promise I wasn’t quite this sweaty during the actual luncheon.

Anyway, the point is, I wore the shirt today – and will probably wear it again, for things like Bark For Life or the Times-Gazette’s Community-Wide yard Sale.

But I still want it to look nice on June 5, when the actual Relay gets here.

I hand-washed the shirt in cold water tonight. Was that a good idea, or overkill? What else can I do to keep the shirt in good shape between now and June?

DR. SEUSS, EAT MOR CHIKIN, AND HOW TO BE YOUR OWN PLAY-BY-PLAY ANNOUNCER

Today was national Read Across America day, although various schools may celebrate the whole week (or next week, if they have some sort of testing or other conflict). My experience as a guest reader at a couple of different elementary schools, reading Dr. Seuss to the kids, was one of the things that prompted me to sign up for the “Raise Your Hand Tennessee” program, for which I’ve been a volunteer more than two years now.

I’ve told you this several times before, but when I first signed up for “Raise Your Hand,” I think one of those “Read Across America” appearances was sort of what I had envisioned. That wasn’t what it turned out to be at all, of course. In Regan Aymett’s first grade class at Learning Way Elementary, I am usually leading a small group of kids through some sort of simple game or worksheet, rotating small groups a few different times during the hour.

I love it. I miss it when I don’t get to be there – such as the past two weeks. Two weeks ago was Presidents’ Day, and last week the schools were out due to weather. So it had been three weeks since I’d been with the kids.

I arrived this morning at my usual time, but that was also the same time as one of those once-a-year Read Across America volunteers. So I sat there and waited as he read “Green Eggs and Ham” to the kids. I took a photo with my smartphone so that I could get it into the newspaper. To be completely honest, I was a little jealous, although my personal preference would have been “Fox In Socks.” Does that make me a bad person?

After he left, we went into our normal routine. I ended up working with three different groups of kids during what was left of our normal time. We were doing a couple of worksheets. On one worksheet, the kids had to figure out which letter was silent in various words and mark through it. The groups were progressively better as the hour went along – the first group really needed me to walk them through it, and even then they didn’t always get it. The last group could have done it by themselves while I was down the hall.

The last group included one kid who’s become one of my favorites this year – which is not to say he’s not frustrating some of the time. He immediately started by asking if the boy next to him could copy off his paper – “He’s a new student,” explained my friend. I explained that, no, each person had to do their own worksheet. (The newcomer did just fine without copying off anyone.) My friend did fine, too, but he insisted on announcing each of his answers as he wrote them on the worksheet. I kept trying to tell him not to do that, but it went in one ear and out the other. And, no, he wasn’t feeding answers to the new student, who was working at his own pace. I think he was just serving as his own play-by-play announcer.

I really enjoy my weekly hour working with the kids, but it leaves me with a lot of deep admiration for the talented, dedicated, highly-trained and often-unappreciated professionals who work with these kids day in and day out.

Oh, the other thing that happened this morning was that when I first checked in at the office, the secretary told me that Regan and her kids might still be in the gym. What was going on in the gym, you might ask? A visit from the Chik-fil-A cow. Sadly for me, the first graders were actually on their way back to the classroom by the time I caught up with them, and so I missed seeing the cow.

As I think about it tonight, I wonder – is it really a good idea to expose first graders to signs reading “EAT MOR CHIKIN”? I mean, learning to spell is hard enough as it is….

Let the band play on

For nearly half my life – for the vast majority of my adult life – I have been involved with the Nashville Symphony’s annual concert in Shelbyville. I covered the first two or three concerts, which were sponsored by Berol Corp., but then when First American Bank took over as sponsor, in maybe 1991 or 1992, the late Scott McDonald formed a steering committee and asked me to join it. I’ve been on that committee ever since, and the past few years I’ve been co-chair alongside with the committee’s long-time chair, Dawn Holley.

Last year, for the first time, the concert didn’t have a primary sponsor, and I was the one who stood up in front of everyone, welcomed them, and introduced Vinay Parameswaran, the symphony’s associate conductor, making his first appearance in Shelbyville. I’m told he was wonderful.

I say “I’m told” because, right after giving those words of welcome, I had to leave Calsonic Arena. It was Election Night, and I had to be at the county courthouse to collect election results as they came in. I’d spent months working with Dawn and others on the concert, and then I had to miss it. I sprinted up the center aisle, through the waiting crowd, and out the door of the arena before the first note of music was played.

You want to know the worst part of that?

For about six months, I thought I had missed the very last such concert. Without going into details, we thought that the pieces weren’t going to come together for a concert this year. No one had said so officially, but Dawn and I had taken it as a foregone conclusion, and I’d told a few friends not to expect there to be a symphony concert in Shelbyville in 2015.

But now, it looks like we’ve gotten a reprieve. We found out a few weeks ago that the concert has been scheduled, and we had a teleconference today to do some planning for it. The concert will be Tuesday, May 5.

There are still some details that need to be worked out, and we still really need a primary sponsor if there’s going to be any long-term future for the concert. But I can’t tell you how happy I am that I didn’t miss the very last one.